Graffiti at Golpark and (below) on a wall of the German consulate. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
If you’re a guy or a girl about town, you must have noticed graffiti signatures and designs on walls and surfaces springing up here, there and anywhere.
And for a change — or paribartan, if you please — this is something that Calcuttans fed up of poll graffiti need not guard their walls against. For, the only canvassing this involves is for art, not vote.
A bustling new paintbrush brigade of young men and women armed with cans and stencils have been going around painting the city red, blue and neon with random sketches, bubbles and silhouettes for the sake of ‘street art’. And in the process they are lending a vibrant look to city walls marred by political graffiti, paan stains and dung cakes.
Spot a random tag — the simplest type of graffiti — on a flyover wall or a street corner. Or a Metro Railway carriage that was tagged. Or an eye-catching piece, created by German graffiti artists, as you pass the German consulate in Alipore.
CAVE TO CALCUTTA
The graffiti is as old as man. If cavemen wrote on cave walls, Romans marked the walls of buildings they had conquered.
Graffiti in the modern world started as tagging or writing your name on a street sign before street gangs started using graffiti to mark territory. Not long after, graffiti became a form of art. Young artists came out and used it as a means of self-expression, transforming many grimy walls into art exhibits.
Around 2009, graffiti and street art sparked youth interest in Delhi and Mumbai. And now Calcutta is playing catch up, from Paikpara to Patuli. The enthusiasm has grown rapidly in the past three months with more than 20 walls done up in a multitude of colours and patterns.
“A lot of shutters of shops have been painted with the owners’ permission. At this stage, it is still mostly for street art’s sake and honing of skills but at least a couple of them have messages in mind and are waiting to find the right spaces for everyone to see,” says 30-year-old Reevu Wangdi, who has spearheaded a part of Mission Graffiti after returning from Sydney five months ago.
“I started researching and trying my hand at it in Sydney where the hip-hop scene is big and graffiti is a part of that movement,” explains Reevu, who runs a restaurant called Momo I Am in Lake Gardens, its walls defined by graffiti pop art. “I did not find much activity in terms of street art till, about three months ago, I met some kids at a graffiti jam in City Centre (New Town). It was a one-off event. They had been tagging basic stuff here and there so we decided to get together via a Facebook page and do it in a more organised way. We had our first graffiti jam in an open space with bare walls at Patuli,” adds Reevu.
NAME OF THE G-GAME
Graffiti on a German consulate wall and artists at work at Patuli
The writing was on the wall — boys and girls unite... for the sake of street art.
Young artists, mostly between 18 and 25, have organised themselves into little gangs to have “fun”, to “find a fresh perspective to art” or to simply fit into the “cool” bracket. If their artwork is cool, their names are quirky — try Zypher, Cruze, Freakin Twistrz, K-Krew as gangs. Or pseudo names for individual artists like D$C, Bhive and B-bob, S-Unit Xalxo, Roc A Locker and Slapnut Noobster!
You can’t miss their nametags either. If Justin signs off his tags with ‘JuS’, Remille’s tag is RemzI while his graffiti mate Missy J Lyndem is planning to change her tag from MjL to MistycK!
Sahil Haque of graffiti gang Zypher says, “We want to promote this culture in our city. A lot of people think it’s a waste of time or a waste of a wall but there are also many who appreciate it. It’s just our way of improving the look of our city in an artistic way.”
Mamata Banerjee, for one, should not be unhappy. “Colour dekhle mon bhalo thake (If you see colour, you feel good),” she had recently remarked at her own painting exhibition. The graffiti gang is on Operation Colour in Calcutta.
“It is very important to practise and prepare samples of what one intends to do or else you may end up destroying a wall,” says Reevu, pointing out that anyone with a good hand or genuine interest can do it.
Regular “writers’ meets” pop up once a month when everyone gets to meet each other and brainstorm on ways to buy more paint at cheaper rates, possibility of sponsorship for group painting sessions or finding sanctioned walls to paint.
While most of the artists unleash themselves on city walls early in the morning to avoid curious passersby or unwarranted questions, a few mask their faces and some seek permission from shop owners or residents and try to lure them with “its community spirit.”
There are two schools of thought here. One, the bombing school, where artists go out in the middle of the night and paint while no one is looking. That is almost always without permission. The other, painting sanctioned walls with permission.
“Local residents often think it’s vandalism but once they see the finished pieces they don’t mind it so much. It’s similar to what happened when it started in Bombay. After a while home owners there would seek out the graffiti artists!” says Reevu.
From random requests to pose for pictures with girl gangs in front of their artwork to spending a better part of an hour answering police that “we’re not part of any radical faction”, the graffiti gangs have not had it easy.
A memorable moment was when “the locals of Nagerbazar, instead of the usual rebuking and questioning, joined us in clearing the spraying area and even brought us a wooden ladder!” smiles D$C of K-krew, an eight-member rap group that does graffiti on the sidelines.
GROW THE G-GANG
A graffiti artist’s drawing book or sketch-pad is known as blackbook and K-Krew that administers the Graffiti Kolkata Facebook page also prides itself for playing an active role in converting aspiring “sketchbook artists, known as black booker” to hit walls and become ‘graffiti writers’.
So what draws them to graffiti as an art form? “We are basically the city’s pioneer rap group influenced by the hip-hop culture since early 2007 and since graffiti is the third of the nine elements of hip-hop, we started taking interest in graffiti art,” explains B-bob. “Our main objective is to inspire more kids in Calcutta to take interest in this field.”
Justin Rozario, member of Zypher and a student of commerce at St. Xavier’s College, says, “It amazes me how the same letter can be expressed in so many different ways! Graffiti is art. It’s about creating something new and expressing yourself. That’s why I got into graffiti last August.”
And no, they are not a bunch of aimless artists. Hear it from Justin. “It’s in line with my future plans because after I complete my BCom I shall pursue animation.”
For inspiration they also look to hip-hop films from the ’80s like Wild Style and Beat Street and their protagonists Zoro and Ramo.
What about parental approval? “My parents wouldn’t support me at all when I started this as they felt I was paying more attention to graffiti than my studies but after seeing my inclination towards this as an art form and how crazy I am about it, they are cool with it now!” says Justin.
Bhive of K-krew laughs, “Sometimes they find it amusing that we need to leave home after dinner time for the all-night sessions. But they’re okay with it since we’ve managed to convince them that this is the birth phase of a new culture and we’re helping pioneer it.”
K-krew’s high point was being a part of a hip-hop festival in Bangkok last month where they tagged and sketched in collaboration with Mister Bows, a popular Thai graffiti artist, becoming the only G-gang from the city on an international platform.
Initially, graffiti gangs were more dependent on the low quality but widely available variant of Chinese spray cans till the likes of Sabotaz and Montana entered the Indian market helping artists easily source them from Delhi.
The only dealer and stockist in graffiti art paint in Calcutta apparently is a 24-year-old young man called Huzefa K who set up shop on Canning Street six months ago.
“I was living in Chennai when I learnt about graffiti art. When I came back to Calcutta I noticed that some young boys and girls who had laid their hands on aerosol cans were just randomly spraying and tagging walls here and there. I thought why not give them focus and try and promote the graffiti trend in the city? It would also help beautify city walls,” smiles Huzefa, a professional photographer.
Going by the demand and sale of spray cans, Huzefa points at “almost an 80 per cent rise” in the past six months.
“While general spray paint can be used on metal and concrete surfaces, spray paint specialising in graffiti can be used on all surfaces including canvas and paper,” explains Huzefa, whose family deals in industrial requirements, especially spray paints.
The store stocks 80 to 100 shades of aerosol spray paint from Greek brand Sabotaz 80. While the basic colours of red, blue, green, black and white are priced between Rs 380 and Rs 420, the more exotic and funky shades in fluorescent and metallic colours are tagged between Rs 420 and Rs 450.
Nozzles, usually sold separately, are offered complimentary with the cans “but only to those who I feel will use it for art’s sake,” adds Huzefa.
Jean-Michel Basquiat a.k.a. SAMO
Blackbook: A graffiti artist’s sketchbook. Often used to sketch out and plan potential graffiti. A writer’s most valuable property.
Bombing: To bomb or hit is to paint many surfaces in a given area.
Crew: A crew, krew or cru is a group of associated writers or graffiti artists who often work together.
Domming: A colour-mixing technique done by spraying one colour over another while it is still wet, then rubbing the two together.
Heavens: Pieces that are painted in hard-to-reach places such as rooftops and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove.
Massacre: When municipal authorities take down or cover up tags and pieces, leaving a blank space.
Piece: Short for masterpiece, it is a large and labour-intensive graffiti painting. Pieces often incorporate3-D effects, arrows and many colours.
Sticker: Also referred to as ‘labels’ or ‘slaps’. A sticker with the writer’s tag on it can be deployed more quickly than other forms of graffiti.
Scratching: To create hard-to-remove graffiti by scratching or etching a tag on the wall, using a key, knife, stone or ceramic drill.
Tagging: A stylised signature, normally in one colour. The simplest and most prevalent type of graffiti, a tag is often done in a colour contrasting sharply with its background.
Throw-up: A throw-up or throwie sits between a tag and a piece in terms of complexity and time investment. Consists of a one-colour outline and one layer of fill-colour.
Writer: A practitioner of writing, a graffiti artist.